MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Its first postseason venture into the College Basketball Invitational will see West Virginia facing Grand Canyon and head coach Dan Majerle.
Come Wednesday, the Mountaineers (14-20) will host the Antelopes (20-13) — members of the Western Athletic Conference since 2013, when the school made the jump from NAIA to Division I.
For West Virginia, it is an opportunity for a young core of players to continue to build off momentum created from their surprising run to the Big 12 tournament semifinals last week in Kansas City.
As the No. 10 seed in the Big 12 tournament, the Mountaineers upset Oklahoma and Texas Tech before falling to Kansas in Friday’s semifinals.
“I think we grew a lot in this tournament,” guard Chase Harler said. “I’m sure most people didn’t even expect us to get past Wednesday or counted us out Thursday. I think the direction we’re going is the right direction and playing can only build chemistry and make us better for next year.”
Majerle, nicknamed “Thunder Dan” during his 14-year NBA career spent mostly with the Phoenix Suns, is 123-71 in his sixth season at Grand Canyon, which also is located in Phoenix.
Grand Canyon advanced to the finals of the WAC tournament last week as the No. 3 seed before falling to New Mexico State in the finals. This is the fourth consecutive season Grand Canyon has won at least 20 games.
“I think everybody is excited, because no one wanted this season to end,” West Virginia guard Jermaine Haley said. “We’re going to get ready for next week and go and win that tournament.”
The Mountaineers continued to improve late in the season, despite losing four starters to injuries or dismissals.
This will be the Mountaineers’ sixth consecutive postseason appearance, albeit one that only came about after coach Bob Huggins met with the team prior to the Big 12 tournament and discussed the option of playing in the CBI.
“I’m proud of my teammates for continuing to fight after what we went through this year,” Harler said. “Hopefully that continues into the CBI tournament.”
Added guard Jordan McCabe after the loss against Kansas:
“We’re going to play in the CBI and we’ll have to rally when we get back home,” he said. “Right now, I think it’s good to let this sit in your stomach and burn. Once we get back, we’ll have to rally and go win the CBI, because what we can take from this is the fact that we know we can beat everybody in the Big 12.”
Grand Canyon’s schedule included competitive losses against Seton Hall, Nevada and Utah, as well as a blowout loss against Texas.
Grand Canyon’s best player is 6-foot-3 junior guard Carlos Johnson, a transfer from Washington, who averaged 14.6 points.
The CBI was formed in 2007, with past champions including Pitt, Oregon State, Oregon and Loyola Chicago.
A school official confirmed it will cost West Virginia $40,000 to host the first-round game. It would cost another $40,000 to host a second-round game if the Mountaineers advance. A portion of that money goes to the visiting team for travel costs.
A possible second-round game would be against either Coastal Carolina or Howard on March 25.
The tournament semifinals are scheduled for March 27 or 28, with the finals beginning April 1.
The CBI finals are a best-two-of-three series with each team getting at least one home game. Only the CBI finals are slated for live TV on ESPNU.